Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

14,500 Roads to Nowhere Threaten Our Wilderness Heritage

Roads to nowhere claimed under RS 2477 threaten the future of Utah’s remaining wild lands, including national parks and monuments.

Governor Herbert and state attorneys claim the places pictured below are all highways . . .

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Ghost law still haunts the West

It sounds innocent enough. Revised Statute 2477, enacted in 1866, simply provides that “[t]he right of way for the construction of highways across public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.”

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Congress repealed R.S. 2477 when it passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976, but if an R.S. 2477 claim were valid in 1976, it remains valid today. Thirty-six years after R.S. 2477’s repeal, the State of Utah has notified the U.S. Interior Department that it will sue to gain rights to approximately 14,500 of these so-called “highways.”  That translates into roughly 36,000 miles of dirt trails.

A backdoor attack on Utah’s wild lands

If a court were to accept Utah’s argument that these R.S. 2477 claims — many of which are no more than cow paths, old seismic lines, dry stream beds, ORV tracks and hiking trails – are actually “highways” under this antiquated law, it would nullify or diminish longstanding protection for national parks, wilderness areas and other scenic landscapes. And it would slam the door on future protection of public lands.

That’s the real motive behind this massive litigation: barring the protection of magnificent public lands and turning them over to extractive industries, off-road vehicles and developers. It’s part of Gov. Herbert’s spurious effort to seize federal land from the American public.

The magnitude of the impacts of these routes is immediately apparent from the statewide map of the claims. The State plans to litigate rights to approximately 14,500 claims (reduced from an original 25,000 due to public outcry and a lack of any credible legal claim) — the large majority of which the State acknowledges have never been constructed or maintained. The map is not the result of careful planning and study; rather, routes were identified and mapped at the request of county commissioners and others hostile to the federal government, and with no consideration of impacts or costs.

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